The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is a time of spiritual renewal and community. Ramadan, a period of fasting, is also a time of celebration.
This year, Ramadan began at sunset on April 2 and ends with Eid-al Fitr on May 2 and 3, with restaurants and cafes staying open late or opening early and festivities large and small taking place throughout the Muslim community in metro Detroit, in particular, in Dearborn, which is home to one of the largest concentrations of Muslim Americans in the United States.
Eater visited multiple locations on the evening of April 16 to capture some of the celebrations.
About two dozen guests wait patiently for breakfast once the sun sets, around 8:25 p.m., at Saffron De Twah, the modern Eater Award-winning Moroccan restaurant in the east of the city. They are eager for iftar, the meal that takes place after a day of fasting, which that evening is prepared thanks to a collaboration with Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba of the famous Burundian restaurant, Baobab Fare. for their collaboration at the Ramadan dinner.
Hungry guests are treated to several regional specialties, including mhogo, a hearty chicken-based stew with cassava root and an aromatic mustard and onion sauce.
Omar Anani of Saffron De Twah dazzles with his signature dips and harissa potatoes. To drink, diners are offered a range of mocktails like zobo, a refreshing pineapple hibiscus tea with ginger beer and topped with an edible hibiscus flower.
Anani has set up a prayer space for Muslims to pray before breaking the fast.
“We wanted to give the Muslim community outside of Dearborn a place where they could come and eat and gather and have a sense of community and not feel any kind of outside pressure,” Anani said.
After iftar, it’s time for a coffee break and Cafe Haraz, a Yemeni cafe at 13810 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn is buzzing with action. Sleeping children and their families and friends in their twenties fill the space, all looking for food and community. During the holy month, Haraz is open until midnight on weekdays and until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Cafés have been part of Middle Eastern culture for centuries. Coffee came before Islam, it has always been in the culture,” says Hamzah Nasser, owner of Haraz. “In the Middle East, bars are not popular for our social gatherings, [so] instead of bars, we go to cafes.
Among the many specialties of the house is the adeni tea, a black tea with thick cream and haraz spices. The drink is filled with floral aromas and spices giving it a full-bodied taste and is a welcome source of comfort for devotees.
Ramadan Suhoor Festival
The hot drink will come in handy for the last leg of this cold April evening, the Ramadan Suhoor Festival. Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal that takes place before the fast resumes at sunrise.
Located this year in the Sears parking lot at the Fairlane Mall, the outdoor celebration features more than 50 food vendors, ranging from edible cookie dough bite makers to halal tacos. The entrance shimmers with twinkling lights and a passage from Ramadan displayed in large print. By the time the festivities begin here at 11 p.m., queues have already formed in front of the many food stalls.
Hassan Chami, founder of the festival, explains that the event was launched in 2018 as a pop-up with around 8,000 visitors. Today, the festival attracts around 20,000 people per night.
“It’s very important because it gives us a safe place, a family environment and allows young people to specifically have this feeling of Ramadan that those in the Middle East have and that we don’t really have in the west,” Chami said.
Lebanon Sushi vendor Dalia Zarka says she and other food makers have waited a long time due to COVID-19 to attend the festival. The event was canceled the previous two years due to the pandemic. Zarka’s tent offers a twist on traditional sushi with its monstrous wraps and shawarma, each rolled, grilled and cut to look like a typical sushi roll.
While many guests come from Metro Detroit, the Ramadan Suhoor festival draws visitors from across the state and from all faiths. Madison Kargol of Grand Rapids and a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn was among those on campus who were encouraged to attend the event.
“It’s not something we normally see or celebrate, so it’s really cool to be able to see different cultures,” Kargol said.
The festival will continue until April 30. Admission is one dollar and is donated to charity. For more information, click here.